With the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers travelling to Regina for the right to hoist the 109th Grey Cup, I’ve been breaking down the head to head advantages for each personnel grouping for the CFL playoffs over the last three weeks.
No matchup I’ve broken down has featured as many close calls and toss ups as this one. Just the way it should be with the two regular season Division champions coming together in the biggest game, and greatest spectacle of the year.
109th Grey Cup
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» Best in the West: Bombers advance to 109th Grey Cup
Zach Collaros has been the best quarterback in the CFL this season and should rightfully be awarded the Most Outstanding Player award for the second straight season.
His ability to see the field clearly on the vast majority of snaps is buoyed by his calm demeanour in the huddle and presence at the line of scrimmage, but what makes Collaros the choice here, is his ability to bounce back from adversity on the off chance that he does throw and interception or fumble when being sacked.
On the other side McLeod Bethel-Thompson feels as though he is peaking at the perfect time, playing his best football late in the season and finding ways to filter his emotional approach to the game in a positive way that lifts up his teammates and supports them rather than showing frustration as he did earlier in the year.
Collaros gets the nod here as he should, but Bethel-Thompson is ready for the moment. I can’t wait to see what both men deliver Sunday in the Saskatchewan cold.
For a moment I was tempted to lean with the Argos here thanks to Andrew Harris and A.J. Ouellette’s stand out tag-team display in the Eastern Final. And let’s be real the Double Blue backfield could play a bigger role than Brady Oliviera in the pressure cooker that are the four quarters that contain Grey Cup championship football.
The reason for choosing Oliviera? He’s grown consistently throughout the year. Transforming from a player who looked like he was unable to find his footing as the new lead man alongside Collaros, into a young Andrew Harris clone capable of dominating the game through inside runs, dropping shoulders and running through snow covered tacklers.
Is Harris ready to turn back the clock and show the kid what this game is all about, or will the student snatch the crown from his predecessor?
Kurleigh Gittens Jr. is a legitimate CFL superstar, but after that Toronto has been struggling to find a healthy split of targets that holds defences accountable on all parts of the field.
Brandon Banks works the sidelines, Markeith Ambles catches quick throws, DaVaris Daniels stretches the field, but it all feels very formulaic.
In Winnipeg I don’t know if Dalton Schoen is going to catch a quick screen, deep dig route over the middle or corner route for a touchdown. If Greg Ellingson gets heavily involved with Rasheed Bailey catching a couple key second down passes the Bombers are in business.
The real difference maker here though is Nic Demski. He can – and will – do it all in this game.
They are large, loaded with All-Stars and play with an edge that can’t be faked.
After BC Lions defensive lineman Mathieu Betts took some liberties with a Bombers ball carrier Sunday, I overheard the Bombers line in the huddle scuffling about in the Manitoba cold as a TSN microphone picked up a 300-pound voice declaring, “go get No.90, move him.”
They don’t allow much pressure, they communicate and they can run the ball with the best of them this year.
Yes, Willie Jefferson is amongst the most likeable personalities in the CFL and can still make you pay by taking over a game, but Shawn Oakman plays a similar role on the interior for Toronto while Ja’Gared Davis can have the same impact.
These two teams ended the regular season seventh and eighth in sacks made ahead of only Edmonton, but I wonder if an unexpected name like Robbie Smith or Dewayne Hendrix will be a game wrecker and a potential surprise for Grey Cup MVP.
Adam Bighill and Henoc Muamba are both the heart, soul and main communication force of these defences.
I have a hard time differentiating the way they impact the game despite playing different styles and being asked to do different things via scheme, so this comes down to Chris Edwards versus Alden Darby Jr. on the strong side and Jonathan Jones versus Malik Clements on the weak side for me.
Darby has infused some much needed life to the sam-linebacker position since being re-acquired from Hamilton, but Edwards’ endless trash talk and ability to flip a game on its head in seconds is the difference maker for me here.
All of that goes without saying, Bighill will unquestionably make a handful of absurdly impressive plays on Sunday.
Having Brandon Alexander back is big for Winnipeg and Deatrick Nichols continues to be one of the most physical boundary halfbacks in the league.
However, Jamal Peters has been a weapon at corner this year, Royce Metchie is constantly prowling the back end at free safety and is capable of directing traffic or making the play himself and DaShaun Amos has separated himself as a ball hawk for much of the year.
Brandon Banks in a Grey Cup is always sure to deliver excitement and intrigue.
On the opposing sideline, Janarion Grant has been amongst the best return men in the CFL this season and showed why during the Western Final with a 92-yard punt return touchdown against the Lions.
In the rarely discussed and always influential kicking game, the reason for a toss up is that a place kicking head-to-head likely leans Winnipeg’s way on anything inside 50-yards. A field position oriented game leans Toronto’s direction thanks to Boris Bede’s big leg.
We won’t know the answer to this one until we see how the game is playing out, but there is no doubt the field goal kickers will play a major role in determining early strategy as they boot what could be a rock hard Wilson.